Blog: Todd Scott

Nationwide, it's cyclists and pedestrians, not cars, that spin the gears of cool cities. This week, bike and trail advocate Todd Scott, Detroit Greenways Coordinator for the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, shows what true fuel economy means for Metro Detroit.

Post 2: A Bikeable Path for Metro Detroit

So if you're still with me on the "why", let's look at just where we stand today. But before doing that, we need to define some terms.

Just what is walkability? It's a measure of just how safe and convenient it is to access goods and services on foot within a community. That also includes accessing schools and parks.

Walkability means more than just having a sidewalk in front of your home. There's an old Steven Wright joke that everything's within walking distance if you have the time. But having good walkability means you can step out your front door after dinner, walk to a neighborhood pub to watch the Tigers and get there before the 9th inning.

This basic definition for walkability is used by, which if you haven't visited yet, you should. Its web site allows you to enter an address and get a rough estimate of that location's walkability. It even has a map showing the relative walkability for the entire city of Detroit.

As for bikeability, the definition is similar except that it also includes having adequate bike parking.

Given these definitions, just how bikeable and walkable is Metro Detroit? That's difficult to answer because the region is far from homogeneous. The more vibrant neighborhoods in Detroit, along with many of the suburban downtowns, are very walkable.

Generally speaking, the further one moves away from these areas, the less walkable they become – and it's by design (or perhaps a lack of design!) Newer communities are typically built around automobile use. Adding sidewalks won't make them more any walkable if it's a three-mile hike to the nearest school, ice cream shop, or corner store.

That said, one advantage to biking is that in a given period of time, cyclists can travel roughly three times the distance that a pedestrian can. That three-mile trip might take a reasonable 15 minutes by bike. One result is that more of Metro Detroit is bikeable, or at least has the potential to be.

Some features that make communities bikeable include normal street grid patterns and streets that are comfortable to ride, either due to low traffic volumes or facilities like bike lanes or bike boulevards.

Street grids make communities bikeable because they typically provide many road options for cyclists and the car use is dispersed across the grid. Communities that have more cul-de-sacs and non-thru streets concentrate traffic on the main arterials (e.g. mile roads) which are in most cases not comfortable for most cyclists to ride. These communities could become more bikeable by investing in bike lanes or wide paved shoulders on their main roads.  In Metro Detroit, the city of Troy is at the forefront and looking at options to do just that.

Unbeknownst to many, the city of Detroit is perhaps the most bikeable city in Southeast Michigan, if not the U.S., due to its very low traffic volumes and well-formed street grids, as writers for The New York Times and Time magazine have pointed out. In addition, the city is beginning implementation of a non-motorized transportation master plan which calls for 400 miles of bike lanes. Studies show that facilities such as bike lanes increase cyclist safety and encourage more people to ride.

Hopefully that provides a general idea of where we're at in terms of walking and biking in Metro Detroit. The next question: Where are we headed?